In 1945’s Tintin in America, the intrepid Belgian reporter for Le Petit Vingtieme travels to Chicago to report on the city’s organized crime problem. Tintin is quickly kidnapped by the gangsters and escapes. The gangsters then knock him out and throw him in Lake Michigan where he recovers and then follows the dastardly Bobby Smiles to Redskin City. Smiles convinces the local Blackfeet tribe that Tintin wants to steal their hunting grounds, the tribe kidnaps Tintin, but he escapes by turning the tribe against each other. He then accidentally finds oil, and the U.S. Army moves the Blackfeet off its land to build a city.
The final bit about the tribe being pushed from their lands is Herge‘s attempt to be sympathetic towards Native Americans, but everything about the Blackfeet tribe itself is fairly stereotypical. From their dress; leather pants with fringes, beads across their chests and feathers on their heads. To the way they talk, “This end, heap big rock…other end sheer drop! What can Paleface do?” To their gullibility, they are easily persuaded by Smiles to kidnap and attempt to kill Tintin.
All were common misconceptions during the early 20th century about Native American culture. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the 70 years since that Tintin story was first published in regards to Native people in comic books.
The two major comic book publishers, DC and Marvel, have attempted over the years to introduce Native characters, but have been hard pressed to make them anymore than warriors or shamans. Usually they are also villains or sidekicks, and rarely have any time in the spotlight for themselves.
The last Native character to have his or her own title from either company was Aztek: The Ultimate Man in 1996, and even then Aztek is just using the identity of a recently deceased doctor named Curt Falconer, who is white. The Grant Morrison/Mark Millar penned series lasted 10 whole issues, and Aztek popped up a few more times in the DC Universe before being killed off in 2000.
Jeff Lemire, creator of Sweet Tooth and writer of Justice League United, is determined to change this starting with Justice League United #0, and the five-issue “Justice League Canada” story arc. JLU #0 finds Animal Man and Stargirl attending a comic book convention in Toronto before heading north with Adam Strange to investigate a strange kidnapping near James Bay, Ontario. They locate a hidden alien base, and with the help of Martian Manhunter and Green Arrow, defeat the aliens. It’s a fairly typical superhero comic story.
Miiyahbin faces a demonic presence upon entering her grandmother’s house after school, and thwarts him by turning into a blue costumed superhero. Miiyahbin seems unsure what has happened when her grandmother enters the home, and the demon is gone. Lemire and artist Mike McKone just introduced the latest Native character and future Justice League member, Equinox.
Lemire traveled to Moose Factory area communities while developing the character to gain insight first-hand from Canada’s First Nation people. During his time in Moose Factory and Moosonee, Lemire gathered ideas and feedback from local residents, and spent time speaking with local schools about the themselves, the character and her development. Not only is Equinox Cree, she is also a teenage schoolgirl, and Lemire is neither, so instead of creating his own interpretation, he went to the source.
The backstory of Miiyahbin and Equinox will be laid out over the next few issues of Justice League United, from her eventual introduction to and joining the Justice League to dealing with her newfound powers. Lemire has stated that Equinox’s powers are tied to the seasons and the land, and are a legacy passed down from her ancestors. Which at first glance seems to fall in line with past stereotypes, but with a costume missing beads or feathers, a name not including the words “chief,” or “(insert animal name here)”, and Lemire well-aware that he is “a white guy from Toronto,” it appears that Equinox will not follow in the footsteps of characters like Warpath or Black Condor.
She will eventually leave her small community, and venture into the galaxy, but she will still be a teenager and hopefully make it back home from time to time. Will Equinox occasionally deal with some of the issues facing communities like Moose Factory? Could a storyline involving suicides in her hometown be in the future? How about Justice League Canada busting a human trafficking ring in Thunder Bay, Ontario?
Unfortunately, these stories do not seem very Justice League-y, but they could be the basis for an Equinox backstory or even storylines within her own series in the future.
Only time will tell whether Equinox becomes a new source of inspiration for kids, and becomes a regular fixture in the Justice League. In the very capable hands of Lemire, she appears to have a head start on Native characters created in the past. He understands his responsibility to the school children he met in Moose Factory, and has the talent to portray her minus the stereotypes that were around well before Tintin visited Redskin City.
Hopefully, with the help of Lemire, Equinox does not become another footnote within the DC Universe.